02 March 2020

Lots Of People Are Spiritual But Not Religious

It is easy to be lulled into thinking that the rise of the "nones", who don't identify with any particular religion, are basically secular. Politically, this seems to be consistent with their decision making. But, few "nones" are outright atheists or agnostics. A recent Facebook post by a friend, who like me has a quite liberal and not particular Christian identified group of friends illustrates this fact. She asks in her post:
Today's question of the day comes from an elderly friend: Do you believe that there are spiritual beings that interact in some ways in human lives?
My answer was as follows:
No. But, I like the way the your friend asked the question. The definition of what most people think of as "god" or the "divine" is something beyond mankind and smart ordinary Earth animals that intervenes with moral purpose in the universe.
I was struck, however, by the other responses. As of this post, there were 20 people who said "yes" (many enthusiastically), 3 who said "no" (in addition to me), and 2 who hedged.

Where Is Religion Headed In The Modern Western/Globalist World?

I think that most humans are pre-disposed to believe in the supernatural and the divine. Probably only a minority of people in the ranges of human neurodiversity, like me, are more Spock-like. A new age of enlightenment, while tempting to imagine, isn't where I think we are headed as a society.

Lots of liberals and people who embrace modernity are hungry of supernatural beliefs that don't support the anti-technology, anti-feminist, and intolerant/hateful stances of conservative Christians, mainstream and fundamentalist Muslims, Hindu nationalists, and white nationalist neo-pagans.

Sooner or later, I suppose, a faith more in tune with post-industrial reality will emerge meeting needs and supporting values more suited to the current reality*, although it is hard to know what it will look like. The really tiny number of people who have embraced Unitarian Universalist churches and similar religious movements suggest that whatever emerges won't look much like that.

Many liberals with these longings have embraced Eastern religious ideas like Buddhism and yoga (which has Hindu ideas in it, but highly filtered and diluted). The faux Jedi religion of Star Wars has attracted sincere followings in the U.K. and is probably closer to what our religious future looks like than the religiously secular enlightened future imagined in Star Trek.

Another angle that seems plausible for the future is for the West to drift in the direction of Japanese, Chinese and Korean folk religion, with beliefs in ghosts, reincarnation, animistic spirits, and veneration of ancestors in a combination of home shines and temples which are destinations rather than centers of reasonably well defined communities of members of a particular church or parish.

Another direction the West could head towards is the grass roots "attractor" (in the fractal and chaos mathematics sense) of what has been somewhat derisively described as "moralistic therapeutic deism", a term that was first introduced in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005) by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. The term is used to describe what they consider to be the common beliefs among American youth. As Wikipedia explains in the link above:
The author's study found that many young people believe in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. It is not a new religion or theology as such, but identified as a set of commonly held spiritual beliefs. It is this combination of beliefs that they label moralistic therapeutic deism: 
1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. 
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
On the other hand, to really catch fire, it seems that a religion has to demand significant deviation for prevailing norms from its followers, to embrace something that takes a leap of faith to believe in something impossible or absurd, and to contain "mysteries" that only those who study the faith deeply can understand, providing a basis for the development of a corps of "expert" religious leaders, whether or not formally recognized as a class of priests. Path of least resistance belief systems don't achieve these ends. 

The Satanic Temple might be a model for a new religious organization beyond the pure jokes of the philosophical tropes of the Invisible Pink Unicorn and Flying Spaghetti Monster, with a genuine cultural aesthetic and in your face identity, even if it isn't really metaphysical at this point. Infuse a little pantheism and superstition with some pagan and Kaballah and Sufi flavoring rooted, in part, in ancient mysteries suppressed by more orthodox versions of Christianity and Islam, and maybe you get something that does become a religion.

Images of the metaphysical world likewise tend to reflect the leadership structures of their day, and so, perhaps, the next major religions of the post-industrial era will be a less centralized oligarchy with something like a pluralistic by "crony capitalist" sort of organization.

* I think that one can see the deep roots of Islam and pre-Rabbinic Judaism as meeting the needs of a hunter-gatherer society, and of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity as meeting the needs of an agricultural and more urban society in which a culture of honor has become dysfunctional, and it is critical to help people to forgive each other as they live cheek by jowl and constantly slight each other.


Guy said...

Thou shall make no machine in the form of the human mind.

andrew said...

Frank Herbert Forever!